The story of how we did it
This is a case study of a congregation in Australia where the Sunday School teachers elected to trial a transition from a ‘traditional’ Sunday School curriculum to one which used Godly Play methodology and curriculum.
Motivations for change included:
- A sense of weariness among Sunday School teachers who felt under pressure to ‘come up with something’ for the next lesson and struggled to find time to prepare adequately.
- The positive and enthusiastic engagement of nine children (aged 9-12) who had participated in a Godly Play circle for most of the previous year (2018).
- The positive feedback of three Sunday School teachers (including the superintendent) after their attendance at a Godly Play taster day.
The Sunday School consisted of three classes grouped by age: children up to age 7, children 8-10, and children 11-17.
The new model consisted of a monthly cycle:
No Sunday School – children would join their parents for worship and Holy Communion, and the ministers would plan worship to be intentionally all-age inclusive.
A Godly Play story with wondering, a brief time of response, and ending with feast.
At first the three groups would gather together in a circle (after being welcomed and admitted one by one by a door person) which in truth was two concentric circles: the younger children on the floor and the older children sitting in an outer circle on chairs. (Very soon we found that having two circles was not conducive to wondering, and we moved to separate groups for the entire session.)
After the wondering, the children would break into their groups – the hall was divided into three distinct areas. Each group would begin some work, and while this was severely constrained by available time, children knew they would have plenty of time to continue the following week. A good amount of time was dedicated for the Feast, where teachers would foster relationship and community for their group.
After beginning worship with the adults, children would go straight into their three groups and one of their teachers would briefly re-tell the story, and spend a little time wondering again, before going into an extended time of response work. Children would generally continue what they had begun the previous Sunday. Again, each group would end with a feast.
At the request of some teachers who were not willing to completely let go of the old model, was a synthesis of the new approach and the old emerged. Teachers would prepare their own work on the same story. Instead of free response, they would prepare an activity, game or object lesson for the children.
After a three-month review, some adjustments were made. It became clear that some of the older children, having had no previous experience of Godly Play, did not easily take to the Godly Play approach. The exceptions, notably, were those older children who had been part of the smaller circle the previous year. The younger children were responding very positively even after only three months. It was also very clear that having the whole Sunday School together in two concentric circles for the story was not good practice.
The Sunday School teachers agreed to continue the monthly cycle described above with the younger children. The two older groups went back to a more or less ‘traditional’ Sunday School curriculum, but with the approach adopting Godly Play informed wondering and the option of open response alongside any prescribed ‘work’.
This year (2020) would have been the second year of Godly Play in Sunday School for the congregation in question, but Covid-19 has meant that there has been a long break and the congregation is only now beginning to meet again. It remains to be seen how much this unforeseen interruption will have disrupted the process of re-shaping Sunday School using Godly Play principles and practice.